Historic Preservation Part II

In chapter four of our text, I was glad to see that the federal judiciary had granted state, and particularly local government the legal tools necessary to preserve historic building and locations. I had erroneously, as it turned out, believed that a listing on the National Register of Historic Places gave protection to historic buildings and sites. In one sense, local control of designating historic districts and structures is the most democratic means to identifying what is important to a community, what a community supports and is willing to expend resources on. On the other hand, it may allow those with financial power (big business and developers) to deploy their monetary muscle to overpower under resourced grassroots efforts at preservation. Using Boise’s Central Addition as an example, Preservation Idaho, according to their website tried to raise the $450,000 plus needed to buy the land and houses to avoid development, but could only raise about $8,000. Does this show that big money beats local concern, or that in reality the local community is not that concerned? After all, the area is not listed as a historic district, nor are the houses on the National Register of Historic Places. This seems to make the case for preserving the area and the buildings weaker, and conceivably indicates this to developers.

Spurred by the links for this week’s readings I explored Boise’s Historic Districts and discovered that the “castle” on Warm Springs is just outside the Warm Springs Historic District, possibly explaining how it was permitted. Maybe if the site had been inside the Historic District it would not have been built, illustrating the importance of delineating Historic District boundaries as expounded in chapter six. Notwithstanding the aforementioned I do feel sympathy for the property owner in Figarsky vs. Historic District Commission in 1976, where the building itself had been substantially altered, was of no particular historical importance, but blocked the view of encroaching commercial development (122-3). The owner was cited for code violations and decided to demolish the structure. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that it could not be demolished, that it had to be brought up to code and the owner was not entitled to any compensation for repairs to bring the building in to compliance.

A central point in chapters nine and eleven is an emphasis on cooperation amongst public and private entities in historic preservation to forge a win-win outcome for preservation and economic development. The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor (nation’s first officially designated Heritage Corridor) is not owned or exclusively managed by the NPS, but locally owned with a large degree of autonomy providing a good example of this partnership (333). It makes sense to me that preservation is enhanced by tourism and we are informed that heritage tourists spend more on average than other type of visitors (262, 284). Furthermore, in regards to Heritage Corridors “the economic aspect, particularly … has been critical in the justification of their benefits to Congress in order to obtain Federal designation and funding” (334).

While browsing on the links prescribed by the syllabus I looked at Idaho’s listings on the National Register of Landmarks.  Out of approximately 2500, Idaho has only ten with the Assay Building in Boise and the Cataldo Mission east of Coeur d’Alene being the most recognizable.  On the National Register of Historic Places, many Boise locations are represented.  Under Boise, I noticed that Kuna, historically a small agricultural town about 20 miles SW of Boise that now operates as a bedroom community for Boise, had two listings.  Seeing as my girlfriend Bonnie was born and raised there, I looked at the two listings. It surprised us both to discover that she grew up a few hundred feet from a location on the NRHP, listed in 1999, after she had moved out of her parents’ house and the marker was placed.  It is the visible remnants of a dirt wagon trail, the Boise-Silver City Road, that once linked Idaho City, Boise City and Silver City to “mining communities in Idaho, Nevada, and northern California to San Francisco,” according to the NRHP Registration Form.    In the form’s “Statement of Significance” section, it states the road was part of the “transportation corridor” during the 1860s that reflects the “economic importance of southwestern Idaho gold discoveries to the larger Pacific Northwest region.” 

BoiseSilver CityBonniehouuse

Boise-Silver City Road Interpretive Sign 2015



BoiseSilver City Road 8
Remnants of Boise-Silver City Road 2015


Preserving Downtown and BSU

There are two places in Boise that I am most concerned about preservation; downtown and Boise State University. I love what downtown offers to Boise and I would like to see it thrive and maintain its historic roots. I am vested in BSU, not because it is particularly beautiful (because we all know…it’s not), but because I owe both my undergraduate and graduate degree to this place and I would like to see it become grander, bolder, and more prestigious.

There have already been a lot of mistakes with Boise’s downtown. After the Boise Redevelopment Agency began an urban renewal project in the 1970’s that destroyed entire historic blocks of downtown and threatened beloved landmarks like the Egyptian Theatre, the city faced public outcry over the destruction. L.J. Davis famously wrote about the idiotic project in his 1974 Harper’s Magazine piece “Tearing Down Boise”, saying “If things go on as they are, Boise stands an excellent chance of becoming the first American city to have deliberately eradicated itself.” Although the Egyptian was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it wasn’t until private individuals (with deep pocket books) got involved that the theatre was safe from the chopping block.

I think this is an excellent example of how real and lasting protection for historic places occurs. While much of the public would like to see history preserved, few of them want to do it at the expense of their standards of living. Even Tyler et al. notes in Historic Preservation that, “the preservation of a downtown’s physical elements, including its older buildings, historic facades, and streetscape, (is) important, but only in combination with maintaining functional aspects of the downtown environment.” (pg. 278) Boise’s downtown may seem like a thriving component of our city, but there are many parts of it that are vacant and the entire balance of the area is pretty precarious. Now that Anthropology is leaving, I fear that hole (combined with the obnoxiously STILL vacant Macy’s) will be large enough that shopping in the area will slow and all those small businesses will suffer. I love the old buildings and the history and the character of downtown. But without businesses to keep the history worthwhile, I fear downtown could slide back into its 1970’s rut.

As far as Boise State is concerned, I know that there isn’t a lot of history to preserve besides what we discussed last week; the Administration and Campus School buildings. But I really hope that BSU keeps those buildings. I am uneasy about their intentions (INNOVATION! METROPOLITAN RESEARCH!) and was

Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!
Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!

especially alarmed at Tyler’s assertion that, “State institutions are not subject to local ordinances and need respond only to state regulations. Universities frequently ignore local historic district commissions…and the larger the institution, the more it can disregard local pressure for its structures to be included in a historic district.” (pg. 179) I know that BSU is not, and probably never will be, a historic district, but it worries me that the university has very little interest in preservation or responding to public pressure. It makes me feel a tad hopeless and powerless. I want BSU to become a place of distinction as well. But I think distinction comes not only from progress but also from maintaining links to the past.


Documentary about “Reading a Building”

It is interesting how things seem more and more interconnected as I learn different aspects of public history.  On page 207, a section of chapter 7 is dedicated to “Reading the Building.”   In class, we have discussed the Cyrus Jacob Uberuaga house and how just recently, it was discovered that a well was next to the house.  Over time, the well had been covered up by a walkway and lost to history for years even though decorative brick work should have been a clue.     (Are you proud of me?  I figured out how to add media.   Try and stop me now!)

It is so easy to look at a building without “seeing” it.

picture of well

Last week, I happened across a documentary at the library about students from the University of Arkansas who scan famous buildings in order to see how they were constructed, any changes that have occurred over the years, and structural weaknesses that might not be seen by the naked eye.  A small scanner collects a billion measurements of a building to form a 3-D model.  So besides maps, photographs, and oral histories, there is new technology that helps historians “read” buildings in a scientific way.   Don’t worry, there is still a need for nosing around the nooks and crannies of the buildings.

Here is a link for previews: http://www.pbs.org/program/time-scanners/

This link is for the digital scanning program at the University of Arkansas:


This program looks like too much fun and a great way to add a digital component to historical preservation and research.  Boise State, take note!

Historic Preservation

Although I had a lot of the information on federal preservation policy pounded into my head between interning at SHPO, a cultural resource management class here at Boise State , and in the actual process of reaching Section 106 compliance in the historical guard tower reconstruction at Minidoka, I found this a highly engaging piece that covered the basics of preservation pretty well.

Was anyone else blown away that Independence Hall was one of the first examples of American Preservation? I am constantly running across Independence Hall in readings for this class as well as personal reading, and they really do seem to have a lot going for them in terms of setting precedents for historic preservation and interpretation. I was surprised to see how far back that legacy reaches. I think one of my favorite sections of the text was on matching, contrasting, or compatible addition designs. The Church Court Condos and Greenwich Village townhouses were fascinating case studies. I loved the treatment of both, and would find it exciting to live in an apartment with the shell of a historic church built into it, though I think many would easily find this an inappropriate adaptation of a historic structure. I think it is inspiring to see the ways in which the architects considered the historic significance of the townhouse, and symbolically represented it in a compatible design that still stood out. It is never a guarantee, though, that architects will value the significance or context of a building, or that developers will find anything worth saving after considering their impacts through Section 106 compliance. Local examples of this are obvious with the urban renewal that wiped out Chinatown and so many amazing structures. A contrast, then, would be the Owyhee renovation, which has turned out to be very engaged with the community and uses so many beautiful and original structural and design details.

As an aside, if this interested you in any way I highly recommend Tom Green’s CRM class. It’s a graduate anthro class but it covers all of the history of preservation law, actually navigating the policies, ethics and philosophies  of cultural heritage preservation in the US and how it differs in other countries, case studies of Section 106/NEPA/NAGPRA compliance, advice for pursuing careers in federal agencies, etc. Dr. Green used to be the Idaho Deputy SHPO and directed the Arkansas Archaeological Survey so he has a lot of interesting experiences and advice. Really useful stuff, hoping it comes in to use for me someday in the future.

That said, I really do enjoy the idea of working in preservation. Reading this stoked an old flame and kind of got my wheels turning. I even started googling historic preservation professional certificates. As much as I want to be done with school forever, things like preservation, conservation, archiving, etc. seem to involve such specific, technical skill sets that you can’t really learn unless you’re in a practicum/field work type situation. Similar to Michelle, it is pretty disconcerting to think I would have to do an additional MA or MS to have enough of a practical background in preservation to be employable. Architectural history seems pretty simple to study, and could be condensed into a short course. Most of the styles here in Idaho I’ve picked up just by reading NRHP nominations.I would also like propose a conversation in class to discuss the options for breaking into this field or what exactly one does when working in preservation… Having seen a small corner of what happens at SHPO, it seems like a lot of lobbying, paper pushing, and bureacracy, so not all that appealing. Although that comes from someone hoping to secure employment within the umbrella of Department of Interior…I’d rather be involved in a more hands on way. Not by chaining myself to an old building that is about to be razed, but perhaps in the field working on actual restoration and preservation. Maybe I actually could draw on some of my construction management skills… Another aside, if anyone is really interested in learning more about character-defining features, Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation, or some really cool examples of different types of properties around the state, I know both Tom Green and SHPO have presentations they do for different agencies/partners/tribes/firms etc.

As far as pres here in Boise, I think the Boise Architecture Project is a very cool initiative. To involve students at such a young age in a public service project that directly benefits the city, and gets them interested in and learning real skills in preservation seems like such a win-win. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn on that resource when I find myself curious about different buildings around the city. It’s interesting to see how things differ between 2010 and now with those “Endangered in Boise” listings, one of the most disconcerting being the Central Addition homes. Right now there is an entire block of Queen Anne houses all boarded up, and I can only think that they’ll end up being razed. Preservation Idaho tried/is trying to raise funds to purchase/preserve them, but they have a long way to go… Check out their site on this here.

Preservation Idaho also considers Minidoka to be a threatened site. Though it is a National Park, meaning any development in the area or using agency funds must follow Section 106 compliance, as many of you noticed not all preservation policy actually has teeth. Since receiving monument, then park status, and recently benefitting from federal grant programs for Japanese American Confinement Sites to restore some of its structures, Minidoka is in very high danger of losing everything. This is because they are currently fighting a huge CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation being established within a mile of the park. This could mean nearly 10,000 head of dairy a mile upwind, completely eradicating any visitor experience value and very negatively impacting the ability of the park to serve its mission. Friends of Minidoka and NPS are working together, along with the support of community members, in reaching land trade agreements to move it elsewhere or otherwise mitigating the effect of the CAFO. This has been an ongoing battle for almost 5 years. See what Friends of Minidoka are working on at their website.

Tyler’s book noted that National Historic Landmark nominations can be accessed in person in DC, but you can also access them here in Boise at SHPO’s office. They also have most of them scanned and linked online as PDFs. I actually pull these up on my phone all the time, to tell the poor people around me about the buildings we are in/near/passed on the way to get lunch. Here is a link if you’re interested. 

We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate

Early in Historic Preservation readers are presented with the ideas of Violett-le-Duc who’s preservation philosophy was to restore buildings to a better state than they could have been constructed originally. This reminded me a lot of that old Boy Scout rule my uncle taught me while camping, “Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.” However, this philosophy is no longer en vogue.

Instead, there are preservationists who boast that they are environmentally sound and that their work benefits local communities. Yet, they also frown upon installing energy efficient windows and actively  at those who reuse of historic building’s remains in the construction of new buildings. (p. 16, 117-118).

Sure, it might not be historically accurate to do so, but I think that “remixed” buildings with non-traditional uses have a lot more potential to be helpful to society than these some of these preservationists want to admit.

Even guidelines for building rehabilitation are semi-problematic. “A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the buildings and its site and environment.” (p.112) Which, according to Historic Preservation, means that a historic church should be restored for use as a religious bookstore or community space rather than a gym or clothing boutique. What if a gym, clothing boutique, or non-religious business was more beneficial to the neighboring community? What if these non-traditional uses improved neighborhood health or brought more jobs to the area?
I’m not saying, “Let’s pave paradise & put up a parking lot.” What I think I’m trying to say here, is that this book truly is an introductory text. Honestly, I’m getting a sense that the book might be more than a little biased as well. The issues of preservation are far more nuanced than Tyler & Co. are presenting here. Does anyone else get this impression?

For example, one of the most interesting parts of this reading was the brief section that discussed how the Chinese, Native American, and Japanese cultures view preservation. (p. 24-5) This portion really deserved to be expanded upon because the ideas presented were completely different, but just as valid as those presented in Historic Preservation. I wanted more detail into why these differing ideas are not a solution for contemporary America’s historical buildings.

I’m hoping that the chapters assigned next week will better detail how preservation connects with economic revitalization, gentrification, and similar issues.

Stray Observations:
-Loved the Eisenman’s Arrow thing. (p. 104)

-What is happening with the citations in this book? They are so few & far between.

Getting Hired and the Evils of Private Property

This week’s reading raised two questions for me; How do I get hired? and How important is private property in preservation?

My first concern is in the relevance of preservation to our qualifications. Last year, I attended a “Speed Dating” night of history professionals and history students. We were exposed to different avenues that our history degrees could lead us. One of those was historical preservation and it was one of the paths that I was most intrigued by at first. Unfortunately, my interest was way-laid as I learned from the two professionals that a MAHR does not really equate to historical preservation. Both of them had Master’s of Historical Preservation and either majored or minored in architecture.

As we learned from chapter 3 of Tyler’s Historic Preservation, knowledge in architectural history is a pretty essential component to being a historic preservationist (at least professionally). I would love to work for a city or in a State Historic Preservation Office, but I’m doubting my qualifications? Tyler asserts that preservation is done either by private individuals as part of a personal crusade, or government entities. My question is…how does one make a living in this? Who is doing these jobs and can we, as MAHR students, actually get hired?

I am also contemplating the tricky issue of private property. I was disappointed in the toothless National Register “Does and Does Not” list. While it’s wonderful that the register identifies places and “encourages their preservation”, I was dismayed that it has no power to protect or guarantee preservation. In true American fashion, the Register does not, “restrict the rights of private property owners in the use, development, or sale of privately owned historic property.” (p. 49) What then is the point? If we are not going to actually fight the good fight, why bother identifying those places at all? I was particularly irked by Tyler’s assertion that “it was politically necessary to leave such control (federal government protection) out of the original act.” (p. 50) I’m exposing my radicalism, but I believe that once artifacts and places mature past a certain point, they should enter into the public domain and should be removed from private ownership in order to be enjoyed by all. It is no different than classic literature.

I know. That will never happen. But I’d like to see preservation have a little more punch and power. Had we had that in Boise, we might not have lost so many fantastic historic buildings downtown to the gharish mall renovation in the 1970’s or seen so much gentrification and renconstruction of historic districts like the North End or Warm Springs.

Historic Preservation and Boise

In Historic Preservation’s introduction, the authors’ talk of a movement from “quantitative to the qualitative” in order to “preserve our built heritage because it represents who we are as a people” (15). While recognizing this link between buildings, history and people, I would expound further that part of what makes a building aesthetically important is its symbolism. I am thinking of structures that to the eye are not necessarily grand or imposing, the O’Farrell Cabin or the Pierce Courthouse, but whose fundamental crudeness embody simplicity conjoined with the precariousness of survival in pioneer times, yet simultaneously they also symbolize the advent of Euro-American expansion, subjugation of the indigenous way of life and the exploitation of nature. Europe emptied its “excess” populations into America to observe the biblical injunction to be “fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” And by God we did so.

O’Farrell Cabin (Boise, built 1863) O'Farrell2

Pierce Courthouse (Shoshone County, built 1862)pierce_old

The text also gives an overview of two competing ur-theories of preservation. I understand the criticism of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration methods that allowed for reconstruction with a lot of artistic license “not based on the original design,” but using what he esteemed appropriate, however I also like the creativity it allows (20). And while agreeing with Ruskin that there is grandeur, a sense of ancient nexus in untouched ruins, perhaps his vision is overly romantic in an unpractical fashion. As the text suggests there is a middle ground in this tension depending upon the building or structure, and the subjective taste of persons and period.

The explanation on page 81 was helpful to me in understanding why, sometime in my life, homes in Boise that had always been described as “Victorian,” suddenly at least to me, began to be described as “Queen Anne.” Apparently, there is little historical link to Queen Anne (R. 1702-14), but the term Victorian is reserved for “the period of Queen Victoria’s reign not a style.” Chastise yourself accordingly.

In Historic Preservation, the authors’ talk of buildings being “links between what came before and what will come in the future” reminding me of the stories in Letting Go? about the house on Hopkins Street and the Eastside Tenement Project (104). It also made me think of the Central Addition section of Boise if it is viewed “only in terms of its current condition,” which is dilapidated (104). As described in Preservation Idaho’s website, the Central Addition (bounded by Front, Myrtle, 2nd & 5th streets) was platted in 1890, was home to many of Boise’s early elite and only has buildings still standing through ‘preservation by neglect.’ When the railroad came to Boise and extended east in 1903, it was only a block from the neighborhood inducing those of means to move out. Illustrating that the wealthy still have options today that others did not, and do not have, a 2013 AP story on NBCNews.com reported that “minorities suffer most from industrial pollution” while the “poor, uneducated breathe the worst air.” Our text’s passage on teardown exactly mirrors the problem for the Central Addition where the land is valued far and above the value of the remaining houses (117). A January 20th, 2015 Idaho Statesman article states that part of the Central Additions is owned by a developer who has planning permission for a seven-story apartment block, with parking and commercial space valued at $24 million. According to the story, the developer and preservationist are on good terms and hope to move three houses built over a hundred years ago. The developer says he will give the houses, and pay to move them, to anyone with a viable plan for their preservation. Prompted by this week’s link in our syllabus, the houses concerned are shown below.

 Jones House (built 1893) on 19 February 2015

photo 2  

Fowler House (built 1894) & Beck House (built 1906) on 19 February 2015

photo 1

New Deal programs were responsible for many works in Idaho including what is now termed the Old Ada County Courthouse, a 1939 Public Works Administration Art Deco/ziggurat style building that boasts murals completed under the Works Progress Administration. The building’s future was in doubt until it was announced, in the February 9th, 2015 edition of the Idaho Statesman, that the building will become a University of Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center, in accordance with an agreement between the state and the University of Idaho. At least one of the WPA murals proved controversial when it was uncovered in 2008, because it depicted two white men preparing to hang an American Indian.  Even the wording above can be contentious, are they preparing to hang or lynch the Native American?  Hang may imply some sort of criminal offense, trial or justice (assuming such concepts were afforded to American Indians) whereas lynch conotes a starker reality.

WPA Mural in the Old Ada County Courthouse


Some wanted the mural painted over, as reported by Ann Finley writing in the Boise Weekly (30 July 2008) who quoted Larry McNeil, then and currently a BSU art professor, who said it should be painted over because of its offensive nature. Many Native Americans and others agreed with him, however Idaho’s five federally recognized Native American tribes, in accord with the State of Idaho, agreed to the mural’s continued presence in the courthouse conditioned upon an interpretative plaque which addressed “the bloody clashes between the cultures that occurred as white settlers took over the Boise Valley a century ago” (Betsy Russell, Spokesman-Review, December 12, 2008). The debate over this mural is instructive to all who are interested in how we should deal with artifacts, objects, and depictions of racism in our history. Should we hide them, ignore them, or destroy them in case they encourage further discrimination? Or is it we subconsciously want to erase them because they are reminders of a past that indicts our hallowed version of then, while also accusing us in the present? I believe the tribes and the state made the correct decision in keeping the mural rather than sparing our feelings by destroying a work that hurts today’s sensitivities.

I do believe planning review, design boards and historical preservation districts should be an integral part of any development or existing community.  Though my proviso is that rules should be in place prior to anyone buying property and any proposed change after that needs to be evaluated in a manner sympathetic to property owners.

Viollet-le-Don’t Touch my Buildings

This is my first foray into Historic Preservation literature, and I’ll admit I was a little wary and had a few preconceived notions about how engaging this book would be or not be. I was pleasantly surprised and entirely engaged in the reading. The authors do a great job of introducing the history of preservation practices and legislation in the United States while intermixing the theoretical and philosophical background of different schools of preservation.

While studying archaeology both here and in the UK, I often encountered the question of “Why?” Why do we spend long, hard, cold days in the field minutely recording and recovering pieces of the long dead past? Why do we meticulously map and illustrate standing buildings? These are great essential questions of archaeology, history, and preservation – of public history in all forms. This book addresses these questions through the theoretical discussions of how preservation should and has occurred in the United States. The authors pose the question “Does preservation stand in the way of progress?” (p. 12). They answer this question using numerous sources, but my two favorite quotes sum up my feelings on the issue rather nicely. The first is from John Lawrence: “The basic purpose of preservation is not to arrest time, but to mediate sensitively with the forces of change. It is to understand the present as a product of the past and a modifier of the future.” (p. 14). The second, in the authors’ own words, supplements the first quotation and serves to begin answering the essential questions I mentioned earlier. “Our society will have matured when its primary focus shifts from the quantitative to the qualitative – when we recognize the need to preserve our built heritage because it represents who we are as a people.” (p. 15).

How then should we preserve the past? I absolutely loathe the philosophy of Viollet-le-Duc. Rebuilding structures as the ‘should have been’?! How pompous and narcissistic! However, this was certainly the philosophy in the United Kingdom during the Victorian period. It was practically championed by Queen Victoria herself and is exemplified in the current structure of Edinburgh Castle. It was basically redesigned under Queen Victoria’s orders to look more like an ancient fort. The problem is, now everything dates to the Victorian period except two buildings! On the other hand, leaving structures completely untouched is a rather melancholy thought. I am far more a fan of Ruskin and the idea that “The greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold. Its glory is in its Age.” (p. 22). However, I believe both philosophies are cautionary tales that should be used as points to start the discussions of individual preservation projects. I also very much enjoyed the inclusion of preservation philosophies of other cultures. I was particularly intrigued by the Japanese philosophy that reflects the cycle of life, death, and renewal. The question for modern preservationists is how can elements of each philosophy serve to preserve this particular structure, in this particular setting?

The evolution of preservation movements in the United States was very interesting. It is easy to see connections between the changing theories in both preservation and history. Both switched from a focus on prominent men or their houses, to thematic research or preservation. In light of the piece we read about the Black Bottom, I appreciated the section “A Reaction Against Urban Renewal”. The authors poignantly point out the relationship these projects have with the communities in which they are implemented: “The past was no longer being ignored, but now was purposefully being destroyed.” (p. 44). The authors point to Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities to further emphasize this point. “Her book was an important catalyst in stirring the public’s recognition that more than just saving some landmark structures, preservation dealt with preserving the very fabric of communities.

As a final thought, I appreciated the list of Boise’s endangered historic sites. I only knew where a few of them were and I am intrigued by those listings and by the bike tours mentioned by Mandy. And as a final, final thought – Does anyone else really dislike modern architecture or is that just me? Straight lines, no embellishment, harsh, cold materials. No thank you.